Vols open season with 59-10 win over Ball State
Hendon Hooker threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more, as Tennessee rolled past Ball State in the season opener.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Tennessee is opening a season on a Thursday night for the second consecutive season and the fourth time in its existence. The Vols are 3-0 in those previous matchups. UT beat Bowling Green last season, 38-6.
QB Hendon Hooker and senior wide receiver Cedric Tillman return this season to form one of the quarterback-receiver duos in the nation. The two have connected for at least one touchdown in three straight games and 10 games overall.
Led by seventh-year head coach Mike Neu, Ball State enters the 2022 season fresh off its second consecutive bowl appearance. The Cardinals went 6-6 in the regular season last year before falling to Georgia State in the TaxAct Camellia Bowl.
They return 11 starters from last year’s team (six on offense, five on defense), including their top rusher and receiver in sophomore running back Carson Steele and senior wideout Jayshon Jackson.
An explosive start for the Vols, but on defense. First play from scrimmage, Cardinals try a little razzle dazzle. A double handoff and toss back to the quarterback who is pressured by linebacker Aaron Beasley. Tamarion McDonald intercepts the pass and the Vols are in business.
First play for UT is a touchdown. QB Hendon Hooker to Jalin Hyatt from 23 yards out. PAT is good and two plays into the game, the Vols lead the Cardinals 7-6-0.
On their 2nd possession the Cardinals drive into UT territory, but on 4th down, a deep pass by QB John Paddock down the near sideline is overthrown and the Vols take over on downs.
The Vols would move right back down the field thanks to a big completion to Cedric Tillman, a nice Jabari Small run and then another completion to newcomer Bru McCoy, but the drive would stall and on 4th and 5, Chase McGrath would boot it through from 34 yards out. Tennessee out to a 10-0 lead with 8:03 remaining in the 1st quarter.
On it’s third possession, Ball State attempts a 4th and one on it’s own 34 and the cardinals are stopped short turning the ball back over on downs to Tennessee.
So Tennessee takes over at the Ball State 35. The Vols are forced with a 4th and one situation and convert. Then on 3rd and 7, a Hendon Hooker pass into the endzone is incomplete, but pass interference is called on the Cards Trenton Hatfield. That places the ball at the one yard line where on the next play, Hooker carries it in around the left side. PAT is good as the Vols open their lead to 17-0 with 4:02 to play in the 1st quarter.
A 32 yard Hooker to Ramel Keyton pass sets up another pass play from Hooker to Bru McCoy. Jabari Small runs hard to the Ball State three and from there it’s Hooker using his legs once again. The score gives Tennessee a 24-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter.
Teams exchange possessions. Cardinals back on offense on their own 36 with 8:24 remaining in the first half. Nothing doing as the Big Orange take over following a Ball State punt at their own 47 yard line.
Following another Ball State punt, the UT offense is back on the field starting at its own 47 yard line. Vols begin to drive once more. Hooker hit’s Bru McCoy and Cedric Tillman on consecutive plays. The drive is capped with Javontez Spraggins, Jerome Carvin and friends pulling and pushing the pile and Jabari Small into the checkerboards from 7 yards out. Tennessee improves its lead to 31-0 with a little over 4 minutes to play in the first half.
Not much luck for State on their next possession, QB Paddock throws deep down the near sideline and is picked off by Ut cornerback Kamal Hadden. led by Hooker, Tennessee moves right back down the field and on 3rd down and nine from the Cardinals 16, Hooker evades trouble, rolls to his left and finds a wide open Walker Merrill in the endzone. It’s Merrill’s first TD as a Vol. Tennessee leads 38-0 with under two to play in the half.
Ball State would hit a big pass and then on a screen get close to the goal line, but the runner fumbles the ball inbounds and it hits the pylon resulting in a touchback and Tennessee’s ball. The Vols run out the clock and head into the locker room up by 38.
Vols received the opening kick of the second half. On third and 8,at the 44, Hooker scrambled for 5 yards. A 15 yard penalty for a late hit would give the Vols a 1st down at the Ball State 36. From there Jalen Wright busted a big run run up the middle, 33 yards to the Cardinals three. Wright takes the next handoff and busts in for the score. PAT is good and the Vols extend their lead to 45-0.
Following the Ball State touchdown, Joe Milton would come in at quarterback for Tennessee. Aided by some Ball State penalties, Milton leads UT down the field. Freshman Dylan Sampson gets his first TD. Vols extend lead to 52-7 over the Cardinals.
Joe Milton hits Jimmy Holiday in stride on a 53 yard TD pass. Vols lead 59-7. UT now with 551 yards of total offense, 335 through the air and 216 on the ground.
Ball State added its second score later in the frame - a 25-yard field goal with 2:55 remaining that would make the final score 59-10.
Tennessee is back in action on Saturday, Sept. 10, in Pittsburgh to take on the 17th-ranked Pitt Panthers (1-0) at 3:30 p.m. The game is the second edition of the Johnny Majors Classic.
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